Merger for East Sussex music service could be explored as part of outsourcing plan

Bob Standley, county council lead member
Bob Standley, county council lead member

East Sussex’s music instrumental service could be outsourced as the county council looks to explore sustainable long-term solutions for its future.

Earlier this year the authority consulted on plans which could have seen individual and group lessons at schools axed due to a budget shortfall.

This provoked a storm of protest with more than 12,000 people signing a petition opposing the closure of the service.

During the public consultation extra savings were identified to balance the budget meaning the music instrumental service has been spared from the axe.

But due to future financial uncertainty the county council is exploring alternative business models to ensure the long-term viability of the service.

One of the options would be to outsource music lessons as another music service, an independent provider running services for a neighbouring local authority, contacted the council about a potential merger.

With this model, staff would transfer to the organisation awarded a concession contract on their current terms and conditions under TUPE arrangements.

The award of a contract would require a formal procurement process, but if this is successful new arrangements could be in place by September 2019.

Bob Standley, lead member for education and inclusion, officially noted and welcomed the savings and authorised officers to explore the option of awarding a concession contract to make the music service sustainable long-term at a meeting on Friday (September 14).

According to an officers’ report: “The number of people who provided feedback through correspondence, signing of the petition and completion of the survey has demonstrated the degree to which the music service is valued and has highlighted the benefits to young people of playing an instrument and of being actively engaged in musical activities.

“Through the public consultation we have been able to find a positive way forward and it is hoped that we are now able to re-build trust and confidence in what we believe is a very exciting and financially sustainable future.”

During the meeting they described how a merger could not only provide opportunities to make further cost savings, but may also further diversify the offer available for children.

Mr Standley said: “I’m very keen we have a long-term solution because there’s not a lot there in our budget.”

Under the worst-case scenario East Sussex County Council could have to find £46m of savings over the next three years.

Kathryn Field (LDem, Battle and Crowhurst) asked about quality control of services if they were outsourced to another organisation.

Officers explained that any successful bidder would have to be already running a music service and as part of receiving Arts Council England funding would have to submit a business plan.

Meanwhile Trevor Webb (Lab, Hastings – Central St Leonards and Gensing) asked about greater diversification in teaching and whether there was a greater scope for singing and songwriting lessons.

It was explained how many secondary schools employ their own singing teachers, while songwriting is included as a part of some diplomas.

Mr Standley added: “If we can find a solution with another partner it takes it out of our remit which I think would be good.”

John Barnes (Con, Rother North West) added: “We would not want to put all our eggs in one basket but this one looks promising.”

He asked that any future arrangements ensure that rural areas, where many families are on low incomes, does not lose out and has access to services.